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DEP releases final draft of new environmental rules governing oil and gas operations

HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection released a final draft of new rules Wednesday that will govern environmental protocols surrounding gas drilling across the state.

The rules will be different for conventional drilling and for shale gas drilling, although some of the new protocols overlap when it comes to environmental protection.

One of the more significant rule changes involves noise regulations, or the lack therefore. The DEP has eliminated in the final draft blanket rules that would govern noise levels at well sites and will instead evaluate complaints on a case-by-case basis.

In addition, well site operators would now be required to test water supplies near wells 10 days before drilling starts. When drilling ceases, operators will be required to restore water supplies to pre-drilling conditions, or at the minimum the water supply must be restored to safe-drinking regulations.

The DEP also eliminated requirements for shale drilling that would require on-site pits for waste disposal, and also removed requirements for seismic testing to be done before drilling.

The final draft still must go through several more levels of vetting by regulatory and advisory boards, although they’re expected to be approved with amendments by the end of spring 2016.

In a conference call Wednesday morning, DEP Secretary John Quigley said the final rules are the result of more than 12 public hearings and 30,000 comments from stakeholders.

That kind of public outreach represents an “unprecedented level of public participation and transparency,” the secretary said, as well as the “culmination of one of the largest public participation efforts the department has ever seen.”

In related news, Pennsylvania DEP moves to discourage or ban open waste pits in shale operations.

Quigley said he is happy with the end result.

“This is a great step forward for responsible drilling in Pennsylvania,” he said.

Scott Perry, the deputy secretary for oil and gas operations for the DEP, gave a more detailed statement in explaining why the noise rules were eliminated from the final draft.

“We do believe that managing noise is an obligation and a duty,” he said. “But we’re going to act on a case-by case basis to mitigate it. As we move forward we’ll develop the best management guide for noise mitigation possible.”

Quigley added that, by law, the DEP must finalize its rules within two years of closing public comment on the matter, which means the rules must be finalized by March of 2016. If they are not, the entire proposal will be scrapped.

“That is a timeline we will not miss,” he said.

The final set of rules come after more than four and a half years of debate, public hearings and input from stakeholders and residents.

DEP officials warned some, if not many, of the rules could change before final approval.

This article was written by Jared Stonesifer from Beaver County Times, Pa. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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